Out of the Easy is written by Ruta Sepetys. It was published in 2013 by Philomel. Sepetys’ website can be found here.
“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.
Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in a quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.”
Some mild spoilers contained within!
Out of the Easy was not an easy read for me; the whole prostitution scenario, and some of the corners Josie finds herself in, is unsettling. However, this is a great work of historical fiction in representing both 1950s New Orleans and the struggle women like Josie had (and have) in breaking their own cycles of life (like the “self-fulfilled prophecy” or the fact that people who are abused often become abusers; Josie is trying to break the “daughters of prostitutes become prostitutes” cycle). Sepetys talks more about this theme, and others, in an interview at BookPage.
I also applaud Sepetys for not doing the easy thing and have Josie be accepted to Smith. Sepetys even has the whole thing with the money happen to really crush Josie, poor girl. But it shows that life, and especially Josie’s life, is not easy, and that getting out of certain situations is hard—especially in that time period. And even though Josie wanted to get out of New Orleans, there were still people there whom she loved, making it even more difficult.
I figured out what would happen with both Willie and Patrick, but Sepetys does have those clues in there as foreshadowing, so I won’t say it was obvious. Oh, and Josie taking Cokie’s last name is just the crowning moment of heartwarming on the fairly happy ending sundae.
Oh, and that moment when Charlotte expresses disgust as to how anyone could pick Gatsby over Darcy made me smile. Darcy all the way.
The one blemish: Ugh, Lockwell. Every scene with him is definitely the most unsettling I’ve ever read in YA, especially his last one. Ugh.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Prostitution, sexual situations/jokes/innuendo, gang-related violence, swearing
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
He took a step forward. “You wanna feel it? I bet you do. I bet you’re like your momma.”
“I’m nothing like my mother,” I told him, edging away from the stacks into the center of the store in order to be visible from the front window.
“Where you sliding to? You scared of me, Josie Moraine? You scared I’m gonna cut you up in little pieces and dump you in Marcello’s swamps?” He laughed, revealing brown tobacco stains on his bottom teeth. He grabbed me by the wrist, pulling me to him. “You’d be such sweet eatin’ for those gators.”
“Do you have a license to practice?” said Patrick.
“If you wanted to interview physicians, you would’ve taken this old dog to the hospital. Since you’re not at the hospital, I’m thinkin’ you don’t have options. I’m probably your best bet right about now. Slap me across the face.”
“Excuse me?” said Patrick.
“You heard me. Slap me across the face. Hard. It’ll sober me up.”
Patrick hesitated. Cokie stared.
“Oh, for cripe’s sake. Do I have to slap myself?” yelled Randolph.
Out of the Easy is deeply unsettling with its depiction of 1950s New Orleans prostitution culture, but it’s supposed to be. It makes Josie’s struggle to create her own identity outside of her mother’s all the more poignant, and it’s especially noticeable in a scene near the end when Josie almost falls into that cycle in desperation. I will be watching out for more books by Sepetys in the future.
You can buy this here: Out of The Easy